An asylum seeker is a person who has fled their own country and applied for protection as a refugee and is waiting for the outcome of refugee status determination.
States party to the Refugee Convention (1951) and Protocol (1967) are listed here.
Without the UN Refugee Convention
If a country has not signed the UN Refugee Convention their treatment varies according to how irregular migrants are treated.
In many countries that includes people being subject to arbitary arrest, harassment, detention, and destitution. The state does not recognise their occupational needs and rights precluding people from accessing health, education, legal, financial systems.
With the UN Refugee Convention
If a country has signed the UN Refugee Convention there are legal obligations to protect the human rights of all asylum seekers regardless of how or where they arrive and whether they arrive with or without a visa.
A key protection is the principle of non-refoulment, meaning people who meet the United Nations definition of refugee can't be sent back to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened.
Syrian's peacefuly seeking protection in Turkey, pic thanks to Freedom House
Whilst refugee status is being determined
Whilst refugee status determination process is underway, governments have obligations under various international treaties to ensure that the human rights of asylum seekers are respected and protected - including the right not to be arbitarily detained.
These treaties include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Even if people don't meet criteria as a refugee
Even when people don't meet the UN criteria for a refugee, if the country has also signed other International Conventions, they have obligations not to return people who face a real risk of violation of certain human rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.